For my final DH project, I worked with the English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA). My review of the project from earlier in the semester covers the purpose of the project, so here I’ll stick primarily to examining my contribution to the site.
Due to the schedules of the two universities and some technical difficulties (one of the few potentially crippling problems DH projects face) I was unable to begin my project as early as I would have liked. However, broadside ballads are a particular area of interest for me, and I intend to keep working for the archive through the summer, and hopefully for even longer. Because of my late start, I have little to actually show, and nothing I have worked on is up on the site yet.
My job at EBBA is to transcribe ballads. The original ballads are primarily in blackletter text, which is often difficult for modern readers (including me, at times) to interpret. I type a transcription of them in Microsoft Word which will be checked against a second transcription done by someone else. Any discrepancies will be worked out, and these transcriptions will not only be posted to the site, but they will be used for the facsimile transcription and also given to the musicians who record the ballads.
As far as I can tell, transcribing the original ballads is one of the most central tasks to EBBA. Considering the sheer number of ballads that the site hosts, I can only guess that this is also one of the most time consuming tasks that the project tackles. My job in transcribing largely avoids dealing with metadata and the actual construction of the site, so I could very easily be wrong in my assumptions here.
Before I even met with Megan Palmer Browne, my contact at EBBA, I received a five page document detailing all of the formatting guidelines for the transcriptions. She and I went over these in a Skype meeting, and then she had me read through a few passages, some fairly easy, others considerably more difficult. We also discussed the proper formatting for the transcriptions. Though, as I mentioned, I work very little with the metadata and structuring of the site itself, I do have to tag various parts of the ballads in my transcriptions. First, I note which collection of ballads the piece comes from, and which number it has been assigned. I then have to tag the title, and tag each new column. I also have to carefully format the text, maintaining original spellings (except in the cases where we substitute letters, such as trading “u” for “v”) and punctuation, preserve the lineation and structure of the ballad (with some exceptions), and cipher out missing letters or words if possible. Though I am primarily working with blackletter text, many ballads also have words or sections in whiteletter, which are transcribed in italics instead. Other variations on fonts found in the ballads also have corresponding fonts in the transcriptions.
Transcription seemed like a simple task until I actually started reading through some of the ballads, many of which have been faded, smudged, or otherwise damaged with age. Once I got used to it, however, the work went pretty quickly, though I still have to stop every few lines to puzzle over a letter or try to work out a faded part of the text. The formatting is fairly easy to get used to, though it becomes almost necessary to turn off many of the auto-correct and spellchecking features of Word in order to transcribe the documents properly.
I think that the work being done at EBBA is incredibly valuable. While some of these ballads appear on sites like EEBO, many of them are only found in library collections, where they are accessible only to local scholars or those fortunate enough to be able to travel for their research. Through EBBA, not only can scholars access facsimiles of the original documents, but they can utilize easy-to-read transcriptions, hear recordings of the ballads sung to their original tunes, and search through the ballad collections through EBBA’s excellent advanced search feature, which allows the user to navigate through the ballads in a number of unique ways. By making these ballads easily and freely accessible, EBBA is fostering a new field of research focused on ballad culture in the Early Modern period.
I am thrilled to be volunteering at EBBA, and I hope to continue working with them for as long as they will allow me to do so. From the first email, everyone I have spoken to on the project has been wonderfully welcoming. Not only are they a delight to work with, but this project has allowed me to develop professional connections to a field that I hope to one day join.